There is nothing like seeing the wonder in a child’s eyes during the holiday season. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!
As children grow up, however, that wonder seems to fade; the holidays no longer seem as magical as they once were. My pre-teen daughter confirmed that recently when she said forlornly, “The holidays aren’t as exciting as they were when I was younger.”
This year, I’m on a mission to bring the wonder back to the eyes of all my children, regardless of their age. I long for the season to be filled with joyful anticipation, fun surprises, and rich family traditions. I’ve learned over the years that the key to seeing the wonder in the eyes of my children during the holidays is to follow their lead and do what interests them. So I asked each of my children, “What activities and family traditions do you most enjoy during the holiday season?” Some of their answers surprised me! I carefully wrote down their responses and plan to incorporate each one of them into our holiday action plan.
Our family strives to slow down at the end of the year, to simplify, to savor each moment of the season. This year we will simplify even more as we weed out superficial activities in place of more wonder-filled ones.
The following ideas are ones that have brought joy to our family in years past, and are traditions my children have chosen to continue into the future:
Sometime in late September or early October, our family invites friends and neighbors over for a Fall Potluck. I create a simple theme for the menu, which is often soup, salad, rolls, and dessert, and each family volunteers to bring something from the list. This makes dinner a breeze for everyone involved! My children help me prepare the house and when the guests arrive we spend the evening eating a simple, but delicious meal, using paper bowls and cups, as we laugh and reminisce about the previous year. Sometimes I include discussion questions to help the conversation along. After dinner, the kids run off to play while the adults continue visiting late into the night. Before our friends leave, they each sign our guest book, leaving us with a tangible reminder of the wonderful memories created that night. Each year without fail my children end the evening by saying, “That was so much fun; I can’t wait to do it again!” (Note: This Potluck can be held at a park if you’d rather not tidy up the house.)
We started a new tradition that my children have grown to love: surprise table settings. It all began on Thanksgiving Day 2016. I had recently purchased some cute owl cups and plates at a discount store. In a last minute moment of inspiration, I used those dishes to create a fun, new table setting for our holiday meal. I included in the center of the table a cute Thanksgiving decoration my son had made earlier that week, and some individual place cards, which my children absolutely love using at our table. There is something special about seeing your name at the table and knowing that there is a special place saved just for you. I like to include on the inside of each place card a short individualized note for the recipient to read when they sit down at the table. This makes each person feel so special! My family was delighted when they saw the festive table arrangement. My last minute surprised turned into a memorable one for my family so I decided to do it again for our Christmas Eve meal. Keeping simplicity in mind, I pulled out the paper plates, a few red paper napkins, and some cute Christmas ribbon, and created a snowman place setting for every person at the table. It was very easy to put together and my kids thought it was the best thing ever! When I asked my family if they would like me to do the surprise table settings again this coming year, the answer was an unequivocal “YES!”
When the holidays become hectic, the thought of taking time to serve others can often seem overwhelming. However, when our family has taken the time to reach out and bless the lives of others, it has always been worth it. These are the experiences–these selfless acts of service– that my children remember year after year after year. Like the time we fed the homeless and the time we invited someone into our home to celebrate the holidays with us. Our family often feels anxious and unsure as we prepare to serve others, but we always leave the experience with wonder in our eyes and gratitude in our hearts. There are countless ways to serve others in our homes, neighborhoods, and community. One might choose to visit a homeless shelter, donate items to the needy, or prepare Widow Baskets. “What are Widow Baskets?” you might ask. Let me share with you this favorite tradition of ours. Early in December we set out empty baskets in our family room and begin collecting items to put in them: homemade Christmas ornaments, hand-drawn pictures, homemade sweets, and handmade Christmas cards, among other things. Then, on a specified evening in December, we pack the baskets into the car and drive to the homes of the widows and widowers in our neighborhood. We knock on the door, sing a Christmas carol, and present them with their gift basket. Without fail, we are invited into their home to visit for 15 minutes or so. We love visiting with these dear individuals who often experience such loneliness throughout the year! Widow Baskets have become a tradition my children would like to pass on to their children. That makes my heart happy.
Let The Children Decorate
I know, I know. It’s not easy to let the children decorate the house. After all, we have friends to impress and really, really nice decorations we would like to put to use. However, children love seeing things they made themselves strewn around the house during the holidays: paper chains, popsicle stick ornaments, construction paper turkeys, clay nativities. If you really want to see the wonder in your children’s eyes this year, let them decorate your house for the holidays the way they want to decorate it. At least let them decorate one part of the house. Allow them to decorate the mantle, or the tree, or the family room. I know, I know. This is tough. But your children won’t be children forever. One day you’ll have the house to yourself and you’ll be able to decorate it any way you’d like. For now, why not kick back in your pj’s, pull out some bonbons, and let the children do all the work of decorating this season? (Now we’re talking!)
Reading is a favorite family pastime and we tend to do more of it during the holiday season. We look forward to the nights when we can bundle up on the couch with cozy blankets and read from a favorite book. Sometimes my children like to work on a project while I read—like creating something with beads, or making handmade Christmas cards. I encourage them to make cards throughout the year which can be used as thank you cards, birthday cards, and holiday cards. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t appreciate getting a handwritten note in the mail. After we finish reading our Christmas story, we’ll often enjoy a cup of hot cocoa or a warm cup of herbal tea around the kitchen table. These quiet times of family togetherness and creativity always make our holiday season seem more special.
Knock And Run
Yes, I did it as a child, and now my children love to do it, too. The infamous Knock and Run. Only we make sure to leave tantalizing treats and irresistible surprises on each doorstep that we visit. Our favorite treats to deliver to homes each Christmas season are Chocolate Frogs. We spend a day filling plastic molds with peanut butter and chocolate or a sweetened coconut mixture, divvy the finished frogs on plates, wrap them in plastic, and attach a colorful bow. After the sun goes down, we pack the plates into the car, and let the Knock and Run fun begin! In addition to the Chocolate Frogs, we also enjoy leaving handmade items, such as jewelry, bookmarks, and other handmade items.
Baking With Family And Friends
Who can resist the smell of holiday spices, and the taste of freshly-baked cookies? No one in my house, that’s for sure. When my kids were toddlers they would help with the baking by adding chocolate chips to the top of each ball of cookie dough. Today, they host their own baking parties with friends. Nothing says holidays more than the aroma that comes from an afternoon of baking. Why not schedule a day of baking with family, or a group of friends? Perhaps you could participate in a cookie exchange, or invite your children or grandchildren to a simple tea party to enjoy some delicious, homemade treats? The kitchen is meant to come alive during the holidays; so many precious memories are created there!
Has your family lost some of the wonder of the season? If so, perhaps it’s time to refocus on the family traditions your children love most. Grab a piece of paper, or use the FREE “OUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY TRADITIONS” PRINTABLE, to record your favorite seasonal activities and traditions. Also included on the FREE PRINTABLE is a list of 50 Simple Holiday Traditions, in case you need inspiration for starting a new tradition or two in your family.
With a little forethought and planning, this holiday season can be one your family will remember for years to come.
Here’s to making wonder-filled memories during the most wonderful time of the year!
Carri is a wife, mother, introvert, creativity junkie, writer, and die-hard lifelong learner. She enjoys cooking, reading, gardening, planning parties, gathering with friends and family, …and spending time alone. She’s passionate about creating personal connections within her home and community, though it requires getting out of her comfort zone. She writes at www.downaspenlane.com where she shares the everyday joys and struggles of creating genuine connections.